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The folks at the Cornell Review report that Cornell received the third most donations of any school last year, behind only Harvard and Stanford. Of course, $170MM of the $450MM raised was from the Weill gift, of which only $35 MM ended up in Ithaca.

According to this article from BusinessWeek, Cornell posted the biggest percentage fundraising gains of the twenty schools that raised the most money last year. While total donations to U.S. colleges fell 12%, Cornell recorded a 9.1% increase in donations ($446.8 million total). Other top schools mentioned in the article experienced large drops in annual giving: Harvard (-7.5%), Stanford (-19%), Yale (-26%), UCLA (-23%), Duke (-22%).

One could raise the objection that Cornellís numbers are inflated by the $170 million gift to Cornell from Sanford Weill, which was included in the overall calculations, but I donít think this should be any reason to add an asterisk to our stats. I donít have access to the data, but itís obvious that lots of other schools received large donations from individual donors. Ours just happened to be the biggest this time around.

Meanwhile, the Sun is on the Arts college's case for placing a full third of the College's $6MM deficit on the backs of the Department of Theatre, Film, and Dance:

But it must be noted that the cuts outlined for the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance ó somewhere between $1-2 million of the departmentís $4.6 million budget, depending on the outcome of that ďconversationĒ ó would take up a significant chunk of the total $6 million in cuts required of the College of Arts and Sciences.

That seems like a heavy-handed conversation starter.

In the administrationís eyes and budget sheets, the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance might be a peripheral unit to the Universityís core. With a downsized performing arts department, Cornell will likely continue to exist largely as it had before. The students in the department will suffer a sharp loss in the quality of their experience, but they are few in number, and can find another direction (or so the thinking goes). But the department, while not necessarily central to the University's rankings or mission, has undoubtedly had a crucial positive effect on many individualsí Cornell experience.

It is true that the department has relatively few full-time undergraduate majors ó combined, the visual and performing arts awarded 90 bachelor's degrees last year, just three percent of Cornellís total. And while these students will bear the brunt of the blow, they will not be the only oneís affected. The performing arts, more so than other departments, touch so many lives aside from the students who declare it their major.

I truly hope Dean LePage understands that one of the reasons why students choose to attend Cornell is because it has both strong core academic disciplines as well as strong supplemental programs (think art, theatre, music, athletics). The two need to go together.

What's frustrating is that this University has five colleges that ostensibly offer programs in undergraduate business education (AEM, PAM in Human Ecology, ILR, Hotel, and ORIE in Engineering) and yet the one non-duplicative program in the performing arts is the one that bears the major blunt of the budget cutbacks. To paraphrase something I said earlier this week, the Hotel School needs to start helping to pay for those who entertain it.

And finally, the Motley Fool suggests that more colleges should consider making loans directly out of their own endowment.

There are a number of reasons moving to a direct-lending model makes sense both for colleges and students. And in fact, many colleges -- especially those with large endowment funds -- would be well advised to make loans not only through federally funded programs but also directly from their own assets.

In addition, though, having colleges invest part of their endowments toward making direct loans to students would serve two other valuable purposes. More loan availability would make it easier for all students to attend college, something that serves the mission of the schools and their endowment funds. Moreover, some of the largest colleges and universities have suffered huge losses lately, having invested much of their endowment funds in high-risk strategies like private equity and hedge funds. Taking some of their assets to make loans to students instead would help restore the lost confidence that many donors have in their school endowments.

It's worth a serious thought. Although taking out loans from the University itself might make alums think they only need to pay back their loans and not make any further charitable donations.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on February 03, 2010 (#)

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